Structural Planning of Networks for Transport Service Providers

Structural Change in the CEP Sector

Forwarding agencies as well as courier, express and parcel services are subjected to a severe structural change. Today, each transport service provider has to deal with mergers, globalisation, changes in transport structures and new ICT technologies.

In spite of all changes and an increasing IT infrastructure, the transport network still remains the backbone of these businesses. The organisation of regular transport services between depots and hub locations forms the basis of the range of services.

High Requirements

Within the planning of networks, many factors must be matched to each other precisely. The organisation has to work reliably even when facing difficult transport conditions and large fluctuations of transport volume; despite increasing customer requirements regarding reliability and short transport times, costs may only increase in limited numbers to remain competitive. Therefore all parts of the network have to be matched optimally to each other – the number and location of depots and hubs, the adapted allocation of regions, the linking of depots to hubs by way of a connecting line haul schedule and finally the route planning for collection and delivery routes.

Network Structures

Predominantly, an optimal structure of line haul is essential for the performance of a transport network. There are various intermediate forms available between a direct transport network and a central hub network for which the optimal solution, matching each individual customer requirement, has to be established. Previous projects have demonstrated that network structures of one or two stages meet the given requirements best.

Hubs and their Capacities

Planning the optimal number and position of hub locations – suitable to applicable network structure – only makes sense in combination with the whole line haul network. We investigate the loading volume of hub locations over time, resulting from the schedule of line haul and handling capacities. If necessary, the handling time window of hubs has to be expanded by additional direct transports. If a central hub works to capacity, it can be relieved by a regional hub.

Service Level vs. Costs

Market developments as well as specific customer requirements regarding the capacity of transport network are taken into consideration in the course of planning the network structure and line haul. Achieving a high level of service is an important challenge within the CEP sector. Clients expect quick turnaround times for deliveries and a highly reliable service between conurbations as well as within rural regions. The optimisation processes of Fraunhofer IML hence are not only cost oriented but also always consider the achievable level of service.

On the other hand, transport costs can be reduced by different optimisation approaches, e.g. line-haul traffic or triangular traffic. The potential of optimisation can be developed within the optimisation of transport swap bodies as well as finding appropriate modes of transport.

Identifying Capacity Limits

How resilient is your existing network structure? When will it be necessary to change to another location? The capacity limits of the planned networks will be demonstrated in regards to increasing volumes and along with that a prioritisation of measures in order to create a sustainable structure for the future.

Data Base and Results

Basis of optimisations are always current geodata that are available in necessary detail at Fraunhofer IML. The alternatives can be compared easily through the visualisation of achievable service times in variants of different transport networks. Moreover, an exact list of critical regions can be used for targeted detailed optimisation.

Manage Complexity

The analysis of different alternatives for optimisation is a very complex task as each decision in a transport network affects a lot of other transport within the network and can therefore only be solved by computer-based optimisation processes.

In the last 15 years, the traffic logistics division of Fraunhofer IML has developed a method for computer-based optimisation of transport networks during a number of projects for different forwarding agencies and CEP services which can be adjusted to current problems in a flexible manner if necessary.


The organisation of Europe-wide networks with cross-national structures and the transfer of locations triggered by EU`s eastern expansion are the new challenges in network planning. Due to narrow time windows the use of plane and railway is taken into consideration so that there is a trend toward multimodal networks. Fraunhofer IML provides necessary algorithms as well as geodata and is therefore optimally equipped for such tasks.